Obama makes quick fund-raising stop Downtown

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U.S. Sen. Barack Obama was in Pittsburgh yesterday, raising money during a quick lunchtime visit to the Rivers Club at One Oxford Centre, Downtown.

VWH Campbell Jr., Post-Gazette
Presidential candidate Barack Obama waves to people across the street from One Oxford Centre, Downtown, where he attended fund-raising receptions yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.

Clifford Levine, one of the event's organizers, said that a crowd of roughly 225 was "mesmerized" by the senator from Illinois during the event that was closed to the press and public. Ticket prices ranged from $500 a head to the Federal Election Commission maximum of $2,300. Mr. Levine said the campaign took in $150,000.

Mr. Obama had no other public events during his visit. He talked to reporters only briefly. Money, not votes, was the goal of the visit. It came in the closing days of the FEC's second-quarter reporting period.

In a presidential campaign that started earlier than any before, in anticipation of a primary schedule front-loaded as never before, those financial reports have taken on some of the influence once exerted by early primaries or straw polls as a winnowing force among the candidates. With that dynamic in mind, the candidates are crisscrossing the country vying for the bragging rights that will go to those able to report the richest campaign coffers by the end of the reporting period on June 30.

"I'm thrilled to be back in Pittsburgh,'' the senator said as he hurried into the reception. "The last time I was here I was campaigning for Bob Casey, and that worked out pretty well. Hopefully my campaign will work out, too.''

Mr. Obama said that Pennsylvania's issues in the presidential campaign "are similar to my home state. People are concerned about job loss, manufacturing loss, a health care system that's broken.

"People are concerned about rebuilding our education system to compete internationally, and an overarching concern about the war. My hope is that we can make some progress legislatively over the next year, but I think that we're going to need a new president who has a vision of bringing Republicans and Democrats together to focus on the kinds of changes that are needed.''

Among Democrats, Mr. Obama was second to Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in campaign cash in the first-quarter reports. His surprisingly strong early fund raising has prompted speculation that he could move ahead of the former first lady in the money race by the end of the month.

Jim Burn, Allegheny County Democratic chairman, praised Mr. Obama's speech. While saying that he remained neutral in the race, he described it as "inspirational.''

On Tuesday, just before announcing that he had left the Republican Party, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a potential independent candidate for the White House, offered a withering assessment of the campaign so far.

In a joint indictment of the candidates and the reporters who cover them, the billionaire politician said that real issues weren't being discussed and the press was doing too little to change that.

"I don't think he was talking about me specifically,'' Mr. Obama said, when asked about that assessment.

"If you're outside of Washington then you run against Washington,'' he added. "I agree with him that the debates tend to be 60-second sound bites, which is unfortunate, and the more that we can have longer conversations about substantive issues I think that benefits the voters as well.''

Mr. Levine, chairman of a Western Pennsylvania steering committee for Mr. Obama, said he hoped that he would return for a larger, more public event in the fall.

"One interesting thing about today's crowd was that it didn't look like your typical Pittsburgh political crowd,'' he said. "It was younger and much more diverse. He generates an excitement that brings new people to politics.''

Politics Editor James O'Toole can be reached at jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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